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Why chromosomes never tie their shoelaces
Date:9/8/2010

In the latest issue of the journal Nature, Miguel Godinho Ferreira, Principal Investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Cincia (IGC) in Portugal, lead a team of researchers to shed light on a paradox that has puzzled biologists since the discovery of telomeres, the protective tips of chromosomes: while broken chromosome ends generated by DNA damage (such as radiation or cigarette smoke) are quickly joined together, telomeres are never tied to each other, thus allowing for the correct segregation of the genetic material into all cells in our body. Since telomeres erode in response to the continuous cell divisions in our body, this protective function fades away as we grow older. Complete loss of telomeres results in sticky chromosome-ends that join to each other creating to genetic chaos the very initial steps of cancer. Understanding how the tips of the chromosomes are protected from DNA repair and how the cells respond when they are unprotected will provide insights into the initial stages of tumourgenesis, ageing and future therapeutic interventions.

Cells respond to broken or damaged DNA by arresting their cell cycle while the damage is repaired. If the tips of chromosomes were recognized as broken DNA, cells would be constantly trying to mend the ends of chromosomes, leading to cell death and mutations in the DNA. Telomeres - the caps made up of protein and DNA at the tips of chromosomes - stop this from happening.

Through a series of meticulous experiments the Portuguese team, in collaboration with researchers at University of Illinois, Chicago, reveal that the crux lies in the changes of a protein, a Histone modification, located close to the telomeres. Histones are found along the entire length of all chromosomes, helping to package the DNA and also playing a role in regulating gene activity. Using fission yeast (used to make bread and beer) as a model organism, the researchers found that one of the Histones neighbouring the telomer
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Contact: Silvia Castro
sacastro@igc.gulbenkian.pt
351-214-464-537
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia
Source:Eurekalert  

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